My Thoughts on the 2019 Georgia Death Race Controversy

AJW's TaproomLast weekend, I had a fantastic time volunteering at the Georgia Death Race outside Blairsville, Georgia. In what has quickly become one of the top races in the United States, this year’s race featured perfect weather and a competitive field.

In the aftermath of the race, stories surfaced about how many runners, some estimate as many as 40% of the field, took a wrong turn early in the race. The course section in question was in the infamous Dragon’s Spine portion of the course where the race traverses a series of steep nobs and gaps, a unique geographical feature in this region of North Georgia. On one of these nobs, there is a U.S. Forest Service crew working to re-route the trail around the nob and it was there that the runners made the wrong turn. It turns out that the Forest Service crew had marked their trail with pink ribbons which were the same color as the ribbons the race was using. The result was a route that was 0.3 miles longer with 400 feet less climbing. After reviewing the situation, race director Sean Blanton chose to issue a time penalty to all the runners who took the wrong turn and the results were adjusted accordingly.

While I understand the sentiment of those who are calling for all of the runners who deviated from the proper course to be disqualified, I support Blanton’s decision to issue a time penalty rather than a disqualification. Ultrarunning is, by it’s very nature, an imperfect sport. Part of that imperfection is clearly on display here. Most of us know that marking trails deep in the mountains can be challenging. Indeed, some long events take as long as a month to mark their courses ahead of their races. Clearly in this case, the race is somewhat at fault as they did not more specifically block the wrong turn or provide more obvious disincentive to take the re-route. As such, for the race to take responsibility for that is the correct move as is the issuance of a time penalty rather than a DQ.

What all this brings to mind for me is that it is an example of how much I enjoy and even cherish being part of this community. Here is a situation that is clearly rife with conflict and will invariably be a lose-lose scenario for the race. So, knowing that, I have to believe Blanton made the decision he thought was best, which is and always will be the race director’s prerogative, and made it publicly known. Then, the community members can make their future decisions based on this information.

In so many parts of modern life, we feel powerless; we feel as though life is just something that happens to us. In ultrarunning, it’s not that. Rather, life is what we make it. In this case at GDR, there are certainly opinions and fault and blame. But there is also a wonderful opportunity to implement change, make better decisions, and learn so that we can do better next time. But in order to do that we need to accept that there will different perspectives and move toward those rather than away from them.

From my perspective, this situation is a classic ‘spirit of the law’ versus ‘letter of the law’ debate. In our sport, while there certainly need to be rules, we tend to be a place where the spirit of the law generally prevails. Sure, 40% of the field ran a slightly longer section of trail with slightly less elevation gain. As a result they were penalized. That seems to me to be about right. And, here’s the best part, if you think it’s wrong there is plenty you can do about it and in that resulting dialogue we can move us collectively forward not as a divisive bunch of frustrated pessimists but as a more open and cooperative group, united by the love of what we do, even in the midst of vehement disagreement.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Creature Comforts Brewing Company in Athens, Georgia. This past weekend Jason Green gave me a can of one of their limited-edition beers and it was incredible. The I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore Hazy Double IPA is simply one of the best beers of this variety I have tasted. If you find yourself in the Athens area this spring/summer, be sure to pick some up.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

Please feel welcome to share your thoughts on what happened at the 2019 Georgia Death Race. We appreciate that this is a sensitive subject for some people, and that we will also have different opinions. We welcome debate and disagreement, but our comment policy requires you to do so in a constructive way that is respectful for all members of our community. Thank you in advance.

There are 89 comments

  1. Jim J

    Ajw – I appreciate your perspective, but the 40% number is not accurate. Per Strava, top 14 runners heading into that turn, 11 took the wrong route (79%). The number is probably closer to 17/20 (20%) of the top runners taking the wrong route since not everyone uploaded their Daya to Strava. Mid / back of the packers were not impacted because third place male (Finn) alerted the RD of the trouble spot at Skeenah aid station and they fixed it.

    1. scott

      The lead male took the correct course along with lead female and the male she was with.
      How many of the top 11 who went wrong were in a pack and just following the person in front of them? At the very least it was all of the 2-4 placed females (at the time) along with the males they were with.
      We’ve all been on autopilot before and done that at one point or another. And because of that I don’t agree that using the data of xx% went wrong is indicative of the flagging since I don’t believe every runner consciously made a choice at the crossroads…I think many just followed the person in front of them.

  2. Don Knight

    AJW,

    Respectfully – the penalty as applied affected exactly one person as it relates to possible tangible benefits and was cooked up after the fact with complete disregard for the facts. There is clear Strava data that shows the re-route was worth somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-4 minutes. There are also formulas available that approximate distance/vert equivalency. Robert Irr ran side by side with Shawn Webber to mile 62 and then gapped him by 25 minutes into the finish. He earned that podium finish man to man on the field of battle. At no point was he told he was off course and given an opportunity to return. Either DQ everyone who did it if we’re going to be rules people, or be more scientific and objective in the application of the time penalty.

  3. BW

    It seems two options are correct in this place. One, DQ everyone who ran the wrong course (that is in the stated rules of the race). The problem with that is the data shows almost every top runner went off course. Second, enforce a reasonable time penalty. An hour is not appropriate. All that did was give the 4th place male, Shawn Webber a bump to 3rd over Rob Irr who pulled away from Webber over the last 10 Miles and put a major gap on him. The deviation from course made no difference in who deserved the top 4 places and the potential golden tickets. Webber earned 4th and Irr earned 3rd. The data makes this pretty clear.

  4. Gunnar

    Maybe runners who understood which flagging to follow should receive a one hour time deduction. If it’s a long enough section to realize you’re not seeing the correct race flagging, shouldn’t you begin to retrace your steps and run the correct route? As opposed to carrying on never technically completing the course, it simply seems like to much of a diversion from the planned race route to be recognized as an official finisher. Walmsley in 2016 had to do just that in order to receive his finish, and I doubt at any point was he looking to blame the race direction that day, it’s just how our sport goes some times. It just seems that if runners were briefed on correct race-day flagging, then it should be the responsibility of the runner at that point to successfully navigate the entirety of the course. While I disagree with the decision that was made, I understand that it was certainly a tough call to make. Though, I still hope WS finds a way to reward the top runners who were diligent about staying on course that day! Respect to everyone involved, as I feel inevitably these types of situations can only bring positive change to the sport. Happy Friday Everyone!

  5. Jon

    AJW, obviously appreciate your thoughts on this and providing a “clearer” explanation than a lot I have seen or heard. To me, you hit it right when you said the situation is “a lose-lose scenario for the race”. Really, there is no easy answer.

    My only issue with this whole thing is a few unknown questions:

    1. When did GDR mark their course? In most cases, isn’t this usually only done a day or a few days (at most) ahead of the race to prevent issues with people removing or messing with the markings?

    2. Why a 1 hour penalty? That seems really excessive, especially given they ran longer, yet not as steep (a 200 foot climb isn’t going to take an hour!) The ONLY reason it wasn’t a higher number of people taking the wrong course is thanks to the runner who alerted the people at the next aid station who then went out there and “fixed” it.

    There are a lot of interesting theories floating out there as to why it was a one hour penalty. I’m not going to post them but if you search the interwebs you’ll find it.

  6. Brent

    I don’t understand how they are enforcing the one hour penalty for the whole field. Only off of strava data? That seems difficult, and there’s no way everybody in the race uploaded GPS data of their run. Did the race use some GPS tracking everybody was required to wear?

    There’s no easy solution. If they caught it in real time they should have just held everyone up at the next aid station and had a restart since it was so early in the race. Otherwise just call it a wash since the distances are so similar, it doesn’t seem to be the runners’ faults that they took the wrong route, and there’s no way to fairly enforce the penalty. Just my opinion.

    1. verity

      its my understanding that the 1 hour penalty was only given to the top runners who went the wrong way who would have been in contention for a golden ticket (I can’t remember where that line was drawn, if it was top 10 or what). The rest of the runners did not get penalized (because like you pointed out, you can’t go check everyone’s data).
      As someone who ran the race and was mid/back of the pack, I know the spot that caused the issue and even when I got there, it wasn’t immediately clear which way to go. I had a moment of “what do I do”, made a decision and I went up the hill and immediately saw the race’s flagging once I got past the Forest Service’s flagging (both were pink, but the race’s flagging had words printed on them) so I knew I chose correctly. I would think that those who went the wrong way would immediately notice the lack of race-specific flagging, but sometimes its easy to get off course and be lulled into thinking “this section just isn’t as clearly marked”

  7. Lightning

    Spirit of the law should be, you’re running along, and you see both routes marked in pink flagging that looks like race marking, both routes should be fair game, assuming they both lead to the finish, which they did. Otherwise you are penalizing people solely because they guessed wrong.

    I don’t see how you could have determine the right way while in middle of the race without better markings, unless you were carrying a very detailed map (that also included the new trail!), and you were looking at it at every single intersection, so you knew where exactly on the map you were in real time. That would not be the expectation unless this was an orienteering or rogaine race.

    Like some others have mentioned already, most of the field ran the correct route only because the marking was corrected. Otherwise, it could have easily have been 80% of the field going the wrong way.

    My take based on all this is that no time penalty should have been issued.

    1. Bill Lapham

      Right. I got lost once and didn’t realize I’d missed a turn until the running shoe prints turned to bear prints. Anxiety sky rocketed and decision-making faltered at 23 miles. I found the turn I’d missed (even though the sweep had lifted course markings while I was lost) but I would eventually miss a time cutoff at the last aid station. My point is, in the case of GDR, for mid- & back-o-the-pack runners, shoe prints would’ve been going in both directions, and course markings looked the same. No way someone figures out that they’re off course under those conditions and under race pressure. The race director was at fault for not not anticipating the problem and preparing the course appropriately. He should’ve blocked the wrong path, especially with Golden Tickets on the line. Conclusion: RD fault=no penalties. Plus, ultrarunners are used to course irregularities. These two tracks were close enough to warrant no penalties. Solution: Everybody send their medals back; run a different race next year.

  8. Michael Hill

    I’ve been thinking about what happened at GDR a lot over the past several days and I’m glad Sean issued time penalties. However, what is frustrating is that the entire situation was completely avoidable and the lack of leadership shown is highly concerning. When he learned about the Buehler and Canty’s error at Skeenah gap he could have easily driven around the ridge to point bravo and questioned them and issued a penalty there. At worst it’s a ten minute drive. But from my understanding he told the 1st place women to “run her own race”.

    If I was her, I suppose I would just start cutting switch backs or opt not do the stairs at the end. Is that fair?

    This whole scenario reminds me of Cruel Jewel last year when Xavier inadvertently messed up the flat loop. The RD was quick to come up with a suitable solution after Xavier himself brought up his own infraction. But without knowing the entire situation that still didn’t keep AJW from accusing him of cheating on twitter of all places. “I sure hope Xavier Perreault enjoyed his brief career running ultras in these parts #outthecheaters”. I still think he is owed an apology but I digress.

    My hopes are that this becomes a catalyst for another golden ticket race east of the Mississippi. Considering GDR has such a low finishing rate and only a handful of runners actually contending for Golden Tickets it would be nice to see a more competitive race with the honor.

  9. Speedgoat

    Tip of the day: Use flagging that has your logo or some sort of identification to avoid said problem. ….Next question. :-) Runners can’t claim a mistake this way.

    1. Michael Wehrle

      The flags were distinctly different, AND clearly described to all runners the night before the race, and right before the race. Race flags were pink with a warning to not remove “USFS”. Other flags were simply plain pink. I’ve seen nobody comment about that. When a group of myself and around 10 guys came through in approximately 40th place, we ALL noticed something wasn’t right because we heeded the specific instructions of the RD regarding the flags. 1) there were way more flags than before. 2) none of them were USFS flags. We checked the Trail Run Project app, verified we were off, then headed back to the correct turnoff.

      1. speedgoat

        If the flagging was different, then it’s the runners fault period. In my opinion. I have also run the race before and it’s a great race and route. If there was flagging there, then well…….the runners did not run the proper route, meaning a DNF in my opinion. Sucks, yes but….that’s how the ball bounces.

        And Scott, my interaction with Kilian is very different. He did not go the wrong way with multiple flagging that was similar, he did not stay on the proper route. What I find most amazing is people still talk about that. My decision in that circumstance was decided after talking with about 20 different people, getting their opinions, then ultimately making the same decision as what happened at Pikes Peak years before.

        1. scott

          You and Kilian come up because decisions are based on precedents. And while I’m sure you weren’t considering that at the time, there’s been so few major issues that we have to pull from what we have.

          I generalized that it was about a runner being off-course, but you’re obviously right that circumstances are very different.

          It would be nice to see a compiled list of major incidents and what decisions were made, along with who made the decision and who it affected. Maybe there’s one passed around by RDs or something.

        2. Scotty Kummer

          The more I read and think about it the more I agree. It just seems like if you don’t run the whole route you didn’t run the race, and if you didn’t run the race you can’t win the race. I thought the same thing a few years ago when Krar deviated from the Leadville. course. It really feels like when following the rule has a result that we don’t like we find away to enforce the rule differently. Which I don’t get. I wonder. If this exact same scenario happened at Western States, would they do the same thing?

          I feel bad for everyone involved and I get that the situation is just yuck. And I realize I’m not a good podcastor OR race director :)

    2. scott

      The RD does.
      He uses the same flagging for every race. He tells everyone what it looks like multiple times. He told them specifically about this turn.
      He COULD have done more but he certainly did due diligence.
      Personally, I think your interaction with Kilian is very similar to this one and should maybe be used as the precedent for situations like this. You get the time but not the prize.

    3. Tom Ecay

      Or give runners a piece of flagging with their bib at check in, for direct comparison on the course during the event.

  10. Jay

    Given the circumstances, the penalties imposed at GDR seemed reasonable – that many people go off course, it’s the RD’s fault, you can’t DQ them for that. My bigger issue was with Sean Blanton’s attitude after the fact – listen to his interview with Eric Schranz – arrogant beyond belief, never once taking an iota of responsibility for *his* mistake. “Everyone is cool with this, everyone is stoked with how we worked it out!”

    1. Michael Hill

      Sean will never take responsibility because no one is willing to hold him accountable. I’m surprised no one has mentioned that he is typically drinking during his events. That is a huge liability and shouldn’t be done either.

      1. Jay

        We’ll see next year. Craig Thornley has come out publicly supportive of the time-penalty decision… but there’s not a chance in hell that he’s *happy*. Plenty of other 100k-ish trail races east of the Mississippi.

    2. Jeremy

      Perhaps even worse, this controversy about the wrong turn is distracting everybody from the fact that three aid stations in a row had water shortage issues. But that only affects slower people, so…

    3. Jon

      Exactly. When questioned fairly on his FB page regarding the lack of logic and clarity and taking no responsibility “everyone was happy”, the 4th place female disagreed respectfully with that assessment. He then deleted posts and blocked people asking questions (but no supporters obviously) after veiled threats to the question askers like “Say it to my face at Hyner.” Total clown move.

  11. Chad

    If I were the RD in this situation I would ask myself two questions.

    First would be, did the runners knowingly take the incorrect route? It seems to me that this is a no. Some are arguing about different types of pink flagging, but it was murky enough that a substantial number of people still took the wrong turn before it was more clearly marked.

    Second question would be, did those who took the incorrect turn gain and unfair advantage? Again I would say no. Perhaps it was a slightly faster route, but there was a substantial time penalty added to compensate.

    Obviously this is a difficult situation for an RD to be put in, but I ultimately agree with the decision. I mean would justice have been served had the top two women been DQed and denied a spot at WSER? I think not.

  12. Patrick Krott

    I came through the subject area midpack and it was not obvious at all. The trail went straight, and next to the turn there was a small log so naturally my focus was on the log. I never even noticed the “correct” trail headed to the right because it was far less worn than the incorrect trail that went straight. There were also many people in front of me going the wrong way. Luckily someone behind me who ran the race previously knew there was a turn and was able to yell to me to turn around. It was a very easy intersection to miss. And it’s one of those things that after you see it, then you’ll continue to see it. But it was VERY easy to miss that first time through.

    Sean does an amazing job of designing courses, but he clearly needs some help in the logistics department. Not just because of this but also, as someone else pointed out, multiple aid stations running out of water.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… People screw up. It’s human nature to make mistakes. That is forgiveable. What is not acceptable is not taking responsibility and saying “that’s my fault, I’m going to try my damnedest to get it right next time”. Those simple words would’ve made this situation much more palatable.

  13. Wooderson

    Alright, Alright, Alright…

    The million dollar question amongst all of this noise..

    Is the golden ticket runner getting drug tested?

    Too soon?

  14. Dave

    I was at the race and have run both the old route and the new route for the DRT through there before. New route is definitely a little longer and does have a few little ups but not nearly as steep as the old section. Your time difference between the two might be like 5-10 minutes max. Despite having run these sections multiple times, I still ended up going the wrong way because of how natural that path looks to follow. Also at the race there was a single USFS flagging on the new route at the very beginning of it, but no USFS flagging after that first one.

    I understand the frustration of anyone racing at the front and being confused by what just happened and having the RD tell you to just run your own race, but this is no different than other sports. In soccer if the ref doesn’t give a penalty for a blatant handball, do you stop playing? Of course not. Regardless of how you feel about a particular perceived wrongdoing in an event, you still have to run your own race. Obviously Sean couldn’t stop the race right then and there because he did not have all the facts.

    At the end of the race his only options were to either DQ anyone who went the wrong way which was quite a large number of the field (this race already has a 50% DNF rate), or do something else. It is his race and he made the call. It was the right call. Runners should not have such a heavy penalty for a mistake that did not save more than 5 minutes.

    It is the RD’s call and it is his race. If you don’t like it, don’t run his races in the future. I think Sean always does an excellent job, but he certainly rubs some people the wrong way. I do think that the early aid stations lacking water was a problem that should not exist a race that has been established for so long. That, to me, is probably a bigger story than the course cutting.

  15. Brett

    I think it should be included in the article as to if any podium or Golden Ticket winners were affected by this. That would have helped put this into more context. Otherwise, it comes off as a random issue on a random race that wasn’t that big of a deal.

  16. John Vanderpot

    Time for a moment of levity, perhaps?

    Like, why am I suddenly thinking of that old Robert Frost poem?

    The final stanza for those of you who forget:

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    Hope everyone has a great weekend!

  17. Travis Z.

    I ran GDR this year; I was in 2nd place at the infamous split. There were three flags tied to a tree at this exact point and another marking on the “new” trail. Yes, I will admit when you are running a race fast and at the front of the pack, you make decisions quick. I see pink; I am going to keep following pink. Many people are saying, “These are clearly not the right flags they didn’t have USFS on them”. Well in a runner’s brain who does not have the normal amount of oxygen for decision-making, I will tell you what I thought. Sean told us in prerace he only flagged about 20% or so of the route himself, maybe the volunteers flagging ran out of USFS flags. Better yet, maybe they should have flagged in a different color that was not even remotely close. I ran for five or so minutes before I realized it was not correct, I stopped on the newly cut trail to understand my surroundings. For the people who were actually running for a Golden Ticket, this was a huge gut punch. Momentum is everything, I saw Morgan above me on the ridgeline and I cut up. At this point, I all but admitted defeat and jogged it into the aid station to tell Sean I cut the course and was a DQ. I was disappointed with myself; I came here to claim a top spot but was lost and cut the course. When I came into the Aid Station now in 5th I explained to Sean what happened and told him about cutting up from the new DRT to the old DRT. I was trying to be honest and fair to all other runners in this race – I was directed to continue running. I just cheated the course and was told to continue running? I could not mentally switch my brain back to compete mode again.
    This is my perspective, if I would have still placed top 2 after knowing I cut the route or went on a different route I would not be accepting any awards. It takes good RD’ing and Marking but it also takes honest runners who will admit their mistakes. I also thought at the time i was only person who cut the course, so I think this played a huge factor in my race self-esteem, only going back out by Sean’s direction. This sport is weird, and even with all our technology it still takes the honor system. Like I said earlier, when you are at the front of the pack moment is everything. We cannot say 60 mins is the fix at all, no one who did not run the exact route should be eligible for a GT. If you have never ran at the front of a race you have no idea how big of a boost it is to be climbing out of an AS smiling looking strong, making the people behind you doubt they will be able to regain that ground. These races are not just running they are a huge mental game, how much can you trick the people behind you, its strategy.
    Just reading what others have said on here and Eric Shranz podcast comment section, I will more than likely be blacklisted from running any of his race.

    1. Chris Wristen

      This is one hell of a post, Travis. Really appreciate your honesty, and you provided perspective in a way a bit different than other commentary I’ve seen so far. Really honest stuff. Damn, well done.

    2. Doug

      Travis, awesome job giving it a go and also staying true to fair sport. Your post is interesting as you are the first I have heard state that he/she recognized the error after the turn and prior to where the trails rejoined. Also, I totally agree with your feelings on momentum up front. It’s what makes it a sport, the racing, both physically and emotionally.

      Regarding the ramifications of the error, it seems that you and a few others were most negatively affected by it. (while others continued racing without the negative effect). I would be bummed too….

      I do think it is interesting to hear peoples perspective. For me, it does feel that there is a moral distinction between “knowlingly” making the error and “unknowingly” doing so, and going on to complete the race.

      The distinction lies in that, it seems several racers ran the entire route never knowing of their error (racing an “honest” race).

      While I realize this example has limitations, it might reflect the way things feel.

      Example:

      Say at Western states, the same exact error occurred at mile 25. Let’s assume nobody meant to error, it just happened. They go on to race and Jim Bob wins in 15 hours. Later on, runner is told he ran 10-20 minutes incorrectly at mile 25. A 1 hour time penalty is given, so now he is given a 16 hour time, and is now 4th place. Huge implications, but it seems more than fair.

      Same scenario, but 2nd place is 2 hours back, honestly to me, it still feels fair. Or at least more fair than a more extreme penalty or dq

      Versus:
      The runner finds out exactly at that moment and could easily have corrected his/her error.

      It just feels a bit different. Definitely respect your opinion given how hard you worked and your honestly. Also understand just how meaningful the GT positions are at the moment. Best of wishes moving forward with the year and hope you nail the GT at your next race!!

      1. Travis Z.

        Doug – Great example, Honestly I would not like to place blame on any 1 individual. This has almost just turned into an interesting case study for future races. However with your statement, you are saying that an oblivious runner is reward by a fixed time added after. If a runner notices their mistake, there is a much higher likelihood of them being punished. Trying to regain lost ground of 10+ minutes will almost always make a runner self destruct by going to hard to try and catch up because they would not have know time would be added at the end.

        1. Doug

          Totally agree Travis.. I can feel how it would have messed my head up while racing as well.. best regards and thanks for the thoughtful response

    3. Jim

      Don’t beat yourself up too bad Travis – it was an honest mistake out there. Like you said, in the heat of a race you see the pink flagging and you just assume you’re on the right trail. On a rocky trail like that, when you’re moving at race pace, you don’t have the time to read the lettering on each individual flag or else you will certainly take a fall.

  18. Jay

    The GDR piece is an interesting one.

    As the RD, ultimately it’s his call on how to enforce any and all rules. He did what he thought was right so that’s the end result.

    The unfortunate part is that it sounds as though this could have been avoided with a little extra planning. I’ve read reports that the USFS had pink flagging in place weeks before the race. I’m sure Sean uses the same colored flagging each year so using extra signage at that intersection would have been an easy fix (while still allowing him to use his existing flagging).

    I’ve directed events where changes have been made in the wee hours before the start due to other circumstances driving the need. If you care about your event and attendees, you do everything possible to make their experience a positive one.

    The biggest shame here lies in the fact that this article is biased. AJW is friends with Sean and I feel that it doesn’t elicit an open minded response on the situation. If AJW truly wanted to implement change as was stated, this article would have been more direct about the way Sean treated Eric on the podcast. “You’re just a podcast host” screams elitism and was disrespectful to someone providing an outlet for Sean’s voice to be heard. AJW is an influencer in the trail and ultra world so his voice carries weight.

    There should be no place in the trail running community for tough guys. Sean has had this reputation and attitude for years and people let him get away with it/cheer it on. Seriously, we shouldn’t condone or reward (pull future WS qualifier/golden ticket status from his races etc.) this type of behavior.

    He’s got some amazing races but because of how he acts and treats people, he will never see a penny of my hard earned $ until he grows up. I’m not alone in this thinking as well.

  19. Albert

    Personally, I believe you should DQ the folks that didn’t run the course, but it seems that the RD has a different opinion about that and that’s fine. I think that Western States should rescind the offer of the golden tickets if the RD of that race sticks with time penalty rather than DQ, and doesn’t offer the tickets to people who legitimately ran the course and earned the tickets. WS 100 is a big deal in the ultrarunning world and getting golden tickets is a big deal. To offer tickets for finishes that weren’t truly earned is a bad idea. I think it taints the value of obtaining those tickets.

  20. shitinthewoods

    This all just sucks. There either needs to be an explicit definition of “finisher” in every Golden Ticket race (because WSER awards a GT to the “top two (2) female and top two (2) male finishers in each individual race in the Altra Golden Ticket Races”) — or we have to all accept that issues like this are subject to the individual RDs own decisions, and the RD decides what defines a “finisher”.

    This is the Rules section of the GDR site:

    “Rules
    No cutting the course
    Listen and follow all instructions from race staff / volunteers / medical personnel
    Be courteous
    You may only receive aid within 100 feet of an aid station that allows crew access
    No littering
    Trekking poles are NOT allowed!”

    There is nothing on the site, that I’ve seen, that defines what happens to runners who break any of these rules. So, I guess that means it’s up to the individual RDs of each GT race, whether we like their decisions or not. But I think this should be fixed right away for any potential future disputes — WSER/Altra should require all GT races to explicitly define what it means to be a “finisher”.

    More fun conversation: These golden tickets are getting pretty tarnished — first, they’re practically all being forced on to alternate courses this year, and not uncommonly affected by weather/nature in the past — and that’s kinda lame. And now this fiasco. It’d be fun to see a mix-up in the GT race schedule (I know, I know…sponsors and all that), but what races would people like to see on the Golden Ticket schedule if not the current line up?

    I vote Hellgate 100k (December) if Doc Horton would have it.
    Antelope Island 50 (March) or one of the Mad Moose 50 milers (Arches in Jan, Behind the Rocks in March) would be safe options in sweet places. I dunno, just spitballing.

    1. CB

      “More fun conversation: These golden tickets are getting pretty tarnished — first, they’re practically all being forced on to alternate courses this year, and not uncommonly affected by weather/nature in the past — and that’s kinda lame.”

      The truth is the nature of trail running is that you have to deal with all the unpredictability of the running in remote, wild areas, and yes this includes last minute reroutes. This year across the country we had torrential rain, and that affected trails all over the US. There are going to be reroutes for floods, snow, trail construction, and damage to the trail from stuff like avalanches or storms. If that is unacceptable then you are free to enter races on the road–or better yet the track.

      1. shitinthewoods

        I was just trying to have a fun theoretical conversation to distract from the endless circular arguments that have resulted from this GDR issue. Really just curious what races other people would “nominate” as Golden Ticket races.

        But since you escalated the conversation – my point in saying that was that Golden Ticket races have relatively high visibility and relatively high stakes as routes for competitive entry into WSER; it’s kind of frustrating when one of those high-viz/high-stakes races has to get rerouted, especially when it then becomes a less exciting/difficult/enticing course. It’s obviously unpredictable, but that doesn’t make it less frustrating. If you sign up for the Black Canyon 100k, do you want to run the Black Canyon 100k course, or something else? Of course you know there’s a possibility of a weather course when you sign up, but surely you have a preference? I think most people would. Nature and the weather will obviously always be unpredictable, but certainly more so in certain places/parts of the country than others. So I was simply considering the idea of having some of these high-viz/high-stake Golden Ticket races in a place with more predictable weather/conditions, where the race would be more likely to happen on the course that both racers and spectators expect.

        Anyways, thanks for shedding light on the truth for me. I’m going to go withdraw from Bighorn now. And TDS. Didn’t know it could be so remote and wild. See ya on the track.

        1. CB

          Ha, sorry for getting so snarky/being an asshole on the internet. I love road and track too btw…just it seems like a silly comment because where is the weather predictable? Where can you be assured you will be running the same route for a re-route, and there won’t be out and backs where you can still manage crew/aid station access? I would almost say Northern California, but lately they have been ravaged by wildfires. I mean hell, I wouldn’t call the Marin Headlands a place with greatly variable weather in December and TNF was canceled this year.

          I like your idea of Hellgate, but even Hellgate has issues with weather. This year, I crewed and there was limited crew access due to ice storms and closing of the Blue Ridge parkway. Are Golden Ticket races really rerouted more than other trail ultras?

          1. shitinthewoods

            The weather and forces of nature are unpredictable everywhere — but, like I said, less so in some places compared to others. And I should add, certain courses/areas are more resistant to those unpredictable forces than others, and so are some race organizations, I imagine.

            For example — sure, Hellgate has been affected by weather/nature, but I don’t think the course has ever changed (correct me if I’m wrong). The only things that have ever changed, I believe, are aid station locations and/or crew accessibility. But I don’t think the course has changed due to weather/conditions. Contrast with this year’s Canyons 100k, which, as far as I know, changed the course not because it will be un-runnable for racers, but because parts will be unaccessible for aid (again, correct me if I’m wrong). Either way, not a big deal — I’ll still follow along excitedly.

            I guess my point is that there are lots of race courses that don’t have to be changed regardless of the conditions that Mother Nature throws at them, save some freak apocalyptic event. TNF50 was cancelled this year due to fire, and rerouted/shortened a couple years ago due to excessive mud that would have been detrimental to the trails, right? I’ll betcha the Antelope Island ultras will never get re-routed due to fire, rain, flooding, mud, tornado warnings, or flying spaghetti monsters. Surely — and this is my question — there are other races of 50+ mile distance that could be expected with similar confidence to be run on the intended course, that maybe some people think might be Golden Ticket worthy?

            I realize that we’re at least 2-3 degrees away from the subject of this page now, and I like that.

  21. Brian

    Agree with the comment about the impact to Golden Ticket results? Why that isn’t included in the article, despite that being the main issue, I can’t understand. Otherwise, no one would care who came in 2nd or 3rd or 4th at this race (except those that ran it).

    Would like to hear AJW comment on why he didn’t include that in his article.

    1. Michael Hill

      I think we have to question AJW’s ability to view this objectively considering his proximity to Sean Blanton. They seem pretty buddy buddy considering Sean made a shirt with AJW’s face on it. Like I said earlier AJW was really quick to throw Xavier Perreault under the bus at Cruel Jewel last year but when it’s his buddy’s race he seems to make exceptions.

      Now that’s gritty af.

      1. Jim

        I agree Michael Hill – AJW is very close with Sean and WS100 Craig Thornley, both who co-signed on this decision. I know that there is no incentive for any race director to weigh in on this touchy subject, but I would love to hear from a neutral party such as Jamil Coury who has no skin in the game.

      2. AJW

        Hey @Michael Hill, thanks for the comment. You are quite right that Sean and Craig are friends of mine. However, I do take issue with the fact that you think because they are my friends that I have taken this position. The truth is, having been in the sport for almost three decades and as such I have dozens of friends who are RDs. Were this to happen Dale, Katherine, Keira, Ken, James, Jamil, Laz, Horton, Amy, Clark, Joe, or James (all of whom are my close friends although, admittedly, none of them have ever made a t-shirt with my face on it) I would be quite likely to take the same position.

        1. Michael Hill

          No problem, AJW. You’ve been a prolific fixture in the sport and I enjoy you’re insights. For the most part I think you’re approach is very pragmatic. With that said, I’m still curious how you could accuse a runner of cheating for inadvertently cutting the course at CJ100 but then be okay with it here? Why the sea change?

    2. AJW

      Thanks for the comment @Brian. To be honest, and this is completely my oversight, I never thought to mention that GDR was a Golden Ticket Race as I assumed that most people reading this column knew that it was and therefore knew why the issue at hand was controversial.

  22. RBC

    Is there anything more fun than a week-long rules debate combined with a reverance for the sacrosanct nature of the Golden Ticket? Wait, I know what will make it even better. Let’s undertake this sanctimonious effort while also slandering AJW (He’s friends with Sean Blanton, so his reasonable thoughts on the subject should be discounted completely) and Sean Blanton (Folks who haven’t run any of his races are comfortable assuming that he’s an irresponsible race director, that his decision here was made to play favorites, and that he really just isn’t worthy of having anything to do with Western States).

    1. Michael Hill

      Hey @RBC,

      Saying that I slandered AJW is completely wrong because at no point did I say anything that was untrue or misleading. Given AJW’s recent views on course cutting and his proximity to Sean it is completely reasonable for an outside observer to question his objectivity. Especially considering he didn’t disclose this in his editorial. That doesn’t make him a bad guy or lead me to question his moral compass. I’ve simply pointed out the inconsistency in his position and have invited for him to explain his change of opinion. The ball is in his court.

      As for Sean I think it’s safe to say that, yes, he is irresponsible and at no point have I said anything that wasn’t absolutely completely true. Furthermore, he has since made veiled threats against someone who questioned his stance. That’s wild.

      Respectfully I disagree on what you consider “slander”.

      Regards,

      MH

      1. AJW

        Thanks for the comment @michaelhill. Respectfully, I didn’t realize we were playing a game but you “ball is in his court” comments suggests we are. Let’s just say the information I have with respect to Xavier’s wrong turn at Cruel Jewel suggests that there may have been some intentional wrongdoing. At this point, I prefer to leave it at that as it’s clearly time to move on.

        1. Michael Hill

          Fair enough @AJW but I wouldn’t suggest we are playing a game. I was asking a question. Your editorial suggest that through dialogue we can move forward. It’s at your discretion to answer or not, I figured you’d be eager to.

          I just wanted to pick your brain on these two instances.

          Best regards,

          MH

  23. Wally

    I don’t think that the RD should have cancelled the early start with three weeks to go nor lengthen the course by four miles at that point. Just my $0.02. Congrats to finishers.

  24. dude

    WS needs to look at this RD closely – he’s attacking people on FB (e.g., “mike I’ll prob punch that beard off your face at Hyner just saying”) that are raising legitimate questions. I can’t imagine WS wants to be associated with this kind of guy at all. No matter what went down, this is not cool.

  25. Jeff

    Fascinating that no one has thought to ask why the course was marked on a section that has been intentionally closed by a USFS reroute. The reason this is an issue is because the race chose to ignore the reroute which while still technically blazed, was clearly moved to closure by the reroute. The old sections had been covered with debris to obstruct the old trail. Marking the closed trail was negligent, perhaps even out of bounds of the race permit, jeopardizing the future of the race. Not publicizing that the race would take the closed trail was intentional, as it was known this section was intended to be closed by the reroute in place. Failing to scrutinize the closed route / re route and not properly make the choice of chosen direction abundantly clear (hello … signage with arrows) is down right sloppy. A marshall could have been placed to prevent this, knowing this was a key junction. I hope in the future we see less hubris when making such decisions for such an iconic and special event in the SouthEast.

  26. alonewolfrunning

    To me it’s DQ. Stuff happens in ultra trail, and sometimes you just have to say….I didn’t run the course everyone else did therefore I cannot get a finish. Simple as that. Take comfort you had a great run, and spent a day on the trail, learn what you can and make sure you stay on course next time. I “won” my first ultra a couple years ago and when downloading data at home following the weekend found i deviated from the course towards end of the race. I believed I corrected it with help of a volunteer during race but turns out i reconnected with proper trail in the wrong spot. Immediately contacted the RD and DQ’d, returned my prizes and reached out to the “2nd” / real winner and apologized. Although I ended up running more miles > than the 50 miles that day I didn’t truly run the same race as the rest of the field, so…DQ there is no debate to me. I felt like an a-hole, for a while but once it was taken care of and real winner notified I was relieved / happy for them, and learned a HUGE lesson. This is not road racing, stuff happens out there, it doesn’t matter why. All that can be done is try and improve if we can for next race ( runners & RD’s) it is an imperfect sport and we should all go into it accepting that. Picture a mid packer pushing hard all day and running his/her race of their life. Lead pack deviates from trail, mid packer runs course as marked and is first one to finish on 100% right trail. How could you tell that person that they didn’t win, that those lead packers will be granted a finish!?

  27. John Kilpatrick

    My take as an RD and someone that has run that course 3 times.

    This whole thing is really not this big of a deal. Forest service marked a new chunk of the DRT – pink ribbons that fed off of the old trail. GDR course was marked well, just runner brain stuff that we’ve all done. Even I called someone back after they went down the wrong way by accident at that spot. An abundance of distinctive flags (additionally, a log was over the wrong trail that runners had to step over) were everywhere but I’ve missed totally obvious stuff before. If you missed that spot, you went essentially parallel to the original course, but cut out some elevation. Only like 1/4 mile or so. Not miles, just a tiny section – fast runners could easily be through it before they even realized (and rejoined the correct trail). Honest mistakes – Sean just used common sense and adjusted some times by applying a 1 hour penalty instead of a DQ for the few front runners. Even an hour was a little harsh if you ask me, but whatever. Some people got bent out of shape over it. Their prerogative, but interesting that so many opinions existed by folks not even there. I was there and in my humble opinion, it was handled professionally and very fairly. To the bulk of us it was a complete nothing. If I was a front runner, I’d of thought the whole thing entirely reasonable. GDR ain’t your local road marathon and sometimes shit happens when you work in remote places. Thank God there are still people that know how to use thought and apply common sense on a case by case basis.

  28. Joel Anderson

    There are so many things that can go wrong navigating a trail race. If you are using a Suunto Ambit 3 or Suunto 9, importing a GPX file of the course beforehand is extremely simple and insures you will never go off course even if you miss a flag or flags are removed maliciously. It can even be done with some Garmin watches if you are willing to become an IT specialist ;) I respect people who eschew modern GPS devices but for the rest of us, learn how to use your navigators!!

  29. Greg

    The number of athletes who went the wrong way indicates that the race was at fault. It’s a trail race not an orienteering race. Races of this high caliber should be marked and course officiated to the degree that it is virtually impossible to go the wrong direction. This should be particularly true for the leaders of the race. Some may disagree, but my assessment is that the stakes are clearly higher for those who are at the sharp end of the race (prize money, qualification for other races/national teams, sponsorships/bonuses). I’m still bitter that Western States failed Jim Walmsley by not making sure he was properly guided toward the finish line in the 2016 race.

    There is, no doubt, a level of responsibility placed on the athlete to have a general sense of the course and to have a moderate degree of common sense to avoid taking random turns into the woods, but the onus is on the race. If a race can’t handle the responsibility of keeping athletes on course, they should declare this prior to the event and be designated as a ‘fat ass’ or ‘fun run,’ with no results or times kept. Or, athletes should know that they’re signing up for a route-finding race. The general disclaimer given by races that “you’re responsible for knowing the course” is bs. Really, I’m supposed to know 70 miles of course that may need to be navigated at night when I’m not able formulate a coherent thought. I paid you $175 bucks to mark the course and give me snacks.

    Stuff happens. Mistakes are made. It is just running. But, it’d be great to see ownership taken by races when people go off course. If a racer turns randomly into the woodland abyss and/or is are blabbering idiots and get lost because they’re are idiots that’s certainly an exception.

    AJW well captured the dilemma. It’s a lose-lose for GDR.

  30. A

    I ran GDR this year and finished in the top 30, not front of the pack but slightly ahead of mid-pack before they fixed the issue. The intersection in question was very obvious IMHO. The race route/original DRT went straight (at about 180 degrees from the trail), while the re-route went about 45 degrees off to the left. Both turn had flags, but the race route had very obvious flagging with large USFS DO NOT REMOVE written all up and down them. The other flagging was obviously different. It was bright daylight, not dark, not raining. In addition, the RD specifically said that morning and at the required race briefing before that pink flagging WITHOUT “USFS” on it was NOT correct, and that this other flagging WAS on the course, and to pay attention etc etc etc. He specially said this multiple times. I thought this whole intersection was very obvious and was surprised to see this controversy when I read the IRF recap. I know mistakes happen but that should be considered a unique and challenging part of this sport. I think the RD did a great job marking the course and discussing the flagging and he should not be blamed.
    I really don’t know what the right choice would have been as far as penalties. It is a lose-lose situation for everyone. I like to think if I was a runner in question I would forfeit my place and Golden ticket as I would feel I had won it under unfair circumstances, but we never know what we would do until we are in that situation. The winners were far enough ahead the course deviation likely did not effect the results and Golden tickets. But it would bother me I think. I would not want to toe the line at WS with this hanging over me.

  31. Shawn W

    Travis Z. thank you for leaving your comments from the perspective of a runner that took the incorrect route. I am sorry that happened to you. I am the male runner that was with the leading female that took the correct route. As you stated, momentum and mental edge is 99% of running fast. When we covered that section we believed we were running well and putting a gap on the pack of 6 runners behind us after Mulky Gap. We got kicked in the teeth when we started seeing runners that never passed us on the trail leaving Skeenah Gap about 5 minutes before we arrived. Kassandra and I have both said we stopped racing at that point because we felt cheated. I still ran hard”ish”. I still had fun. I still enjoyed the day in the woods, but it was just a run at that point and I refused to race against anyone that I knew cut in front of us before Skeenah. I felt that the runners were responsible to follow the correct flagging or correct the mistake and I carried that anger with me the rest of the race and it affected my finish time.

    Now that the dust has settled and time has passed, I agree with the 1 hour penalty. In the end, I wouldn’t have caught 1st or 2nd that day, but I definitely would have been in contention for 3rd Overall and Sean has made that right. I believe Kassandra had a shot at 1st or 2nd, and that upset me more. And just for the record, I have no bad feelings toward the runner’s that missed the course flagging as I think it was unintentional and as Travis stated, he felt terrible and I’m sure it also affected others.

    A couple things I would like to mention, is I think the 40% wrong route number is way too high if the entire field is considered. I agree that is was a high percentage of the lead runners pointing to an issue with flagging, but it seems that some of the leaders and most of the mid/back of the pack followed the course. The other thing people have been using to justify the argument against penalty is that the alternate route actually added 0.3 mi distance and only cut a few hundred feet in vertical, but what is not taken into account is that the actual route in this section was unmaintained, overgrown with briars, and was one of the steepest climbs at over 30% gradient (exactly what you would expect at GDR). For those and the other stated reasons, I support the penalty in lieu of DQ.

    Through all of this, the one person that lost the most, Kassandra, has had an amazing attitude and I have realized that is what makes ultrarunning so awesome. Because at the end of the day it’s just running and that’s why we love it.

    Anyway, Kassandra and I are letting it go and moving on. I hope that we can all learn from this, do better next time, and move forward together.

  32. Ben

    “So, knowing that, I have to believe Blanton made the decision he thought was best, which is and always will be the race director’s prerogative, and made it publicly known.”

    You forgot to type “…I have to believe Blanton made the decision he thought was best for his friends,…”

    Sean is a full-time, for profit, RD, right? Where is his accountability in this? And what about consequences for him / this race?

    1. RBC

      It would be tough to offer a more flagrantly disrespectful comment than to suggest that Sean Blanton directed GDR in a manner purposefully intended to ensure that his friends secured Golden Tickets to Western States. It might even be dumber than the absurd speculation that Dale Garland made his decision at Hardrock last year because Altra sponsored the race and he wanted to help one of their athletes win. It’s grossly insulting.

      AJW pointed out what should already be obvious to anyone who has run a trail race – Sometimes, things don’t go as planned with course markings leading to uncertainty and race directors ultimately having to make tough decisions. That’s what happened last weekend at GDR. Why is there a demand that the race director now suffer some ominous “consequences” as a result? That’s absurd. Don’t run his races going forward if you demand that every rules violation, however unintentional or insignificant, should result in a disqualification. I’m sure there are other race directors who share that point of view. There’s a sentiment running through these comments that Sean Blanton isn’t a serious or competent race director. That’s nonsense. His races are among the very best in the country. I’m sure folks have not-so-great experiences occasionally, but there’s a reason his races sell out almost immediately and so many people are loyal to him. He might come across like a real jackass to people who aren’t familiar with him or people who are determined that running should be no fun at all, but he’s a first-class race director.

      1. Ben

        To be clear RBC I’m suggesting there should potentially be consequences for not marking the race properly and/or using a section of closed USFS trail to begin with. I’m not suggesting he face consequences because of how he handled the ‘rules violation’. Jeff captured the real issue perfectly in his post above.

        If I screw up at my job, there are consequences. This is Sean’s for-profit job, correct? That’s all I am saying.

    1. mike J

      Ben – 4th place threw a hissy fit after the race and couldn’t accept his finishing position, even though he got gapped hard in last 9 miles. So he complained to Sean until a time penalty was added so that he could be bumped up to 3rd if Morgan declines the ticket. It’s as simple as that.

  33. Jacob S.

    Asking for the RD to uphold the race’s rules is not a hissyfit. Am I on irunfar or is the letsrun(far).com?

    Anyways. Happy Sunday Runday.

  34. Mike

    …or we could simply choose to take our sport (and especially ourselves) less seriously.
    Trail running, even ultra running and racing, remains a leisure activity for the vast majority of us.
    I’ve been in a couple races where the markings were less than ideal, and I’ve lost time as a result… and it wasn’t the end of the world. But I run and race for fun and to stay healthy. In my mind, amateur racing shouldn’t be an additional source of stress and anguish. Shrug and move on.

  35. RBC

    It’s clear enough that reasonable people have arrived at wildly different conclusions about whether the runners who went off-course should have been penalized and, if so, what sort of penalty would have been appropriate. That’s typically how it goes with these sorts of things. Or at least that’s how I remember it going with Leadville in 2014 and Hardrock in 2018. Inevitably, there are going to be people who disagree with the call that the race director makes and there’s always going to be a fair amount of disagreement about what is just and fair given the circumstances. The issue I have with your position is that it’s based on your assumption that Sean Blanton was motivated not by a desire to resolve the issue fairly, but by an interest to preserve a friend’s place in the standings. You’ve challenged his credibility and character without any apparent basis, which strikes me as fundamentally uncool.

    1. Ben

      Well, I’m not intentionally challenging his credibility and character. I’m also not saying or suggesting he was purely motivated by a desire to preserve friend’s places in the standings. But you have to admit, it’s ‘ironical’, no?

      However, if you would like to take it there I will simply say that I have seen his social media posts over the years (and in this instance), heard him speak and understood how he treats people, and potentially understood more of what happened in this case, and I think Sean could handle things differently in a number of situations. So I’ll leave it there as it’s good Sean has his supporters.

  36. Jeremy H

    Two days of sick belly pre-race took the sting out of me and rendered me tired and messed up by the time I got to that junction in question. I was somewhere around 3rd-4th place and already cramping- and puking wasn’t far down the road. At that critical junction, I stopped for about 30 seconds, looked at the options and never saw any flagging with USFS writing on it. One option had some downed logs and looked obscure, so I took the more obvious trail which had tons of pink flagging. I figured they didn’t use the “USFS” markers because there was already a pink ribbon every 50 feet or so on that trail. My guess was that they were improving the trail and since it was already marked, the marking crew just rolled along. In my hazy brain, it seemed like just a few minutes down the way I was seeing USFS markers, so I figured all was cool. The cramps got worse, I lost all ability to ingest anything (even water) and I puked for the next 15 or so miles to drop with Travis Z at about the 50K mark. My body was DESTROYED and I am still sore and weak 9 days later from covering the miles with nothing in the tank. What I saw out there was excellent and I am really bummed that I couldn’t see the rest. So, I guess I would have been assessed a 1 hour penalty and probably missed my Golden Ticket, even if I held together. I think I should have been either DQ’ed at mile 21 where I saw RD Sean and was asked about the junction, as I never covered the actual trail. Or the foul could have been just ruled a non issue and let the race unfold. As it was, I figured I was suffering for no good reason, as I suspected a DQ would happen.

    I should mention, I briefly got off course 2 other times early on, always at junctions on forest roads, and both of which there were campsites nearby obscuring the view somewhat, without reflectors while it was still dark. As an RD of trail ultras myself in Idaho (IMTUF100 and McCall Trailrunning Classic), I learned early that I had to mark the courses myself or I couldn’t sleep at night. So I mark them myself and I practice 2 things that I think may have helped out there. I’m not pointing any fingers or suggesting the getting off course was anything but my fault, just saying how I would have handled the course marking. ONE, at funky junctions, place a sign with an arrow and some context words or at least some ground flagging directing you in the right direction, then you look up and see the main pink flagging as a confidence marker that you are on route. I custom make these signs for each individual junction, place them with great care, then run backwards and run through again to make sure the sign is oriented properly. Some junctions take me 20 minutes to get it right but it is worth it. It also means running with a big pack full of signs instead of just a few rolls of ribbon which is why it takes me a solid week to mark a course. TWO, mark the course in the direction that the race will go. In the days before the race, I checked out some of the course and the course marking that was happening was being done in reverse. If this critical junction was marked in that manner, they would not have seen it through the runner’s eyes and recognized just how confusing it was. Add in some reflectors for the first few hours of the race and that should secure the course for competitive purposes, for anything short of intentional vandalism. The signage and reflectors may even prevent the vandals, as it adds a legit look to the course that can’t be mistaken as some hunter’s discarded flagging. I think most people would only strip a course thinking they were cleaning up someone’s mess, not out of malice. Make the markers look more official and only your hardened vandal will bite. GDR’s USFS markers are clever and help to accomplish this.

    Congrats to the finishers and to the holders of the coveted Golden Tickets. I was very impressed with the entire setting and the terrain was fantastic. The GDR is an excellent race and I hope to be back some day.

    Cheers,
    Jer

    1. Lightning

      “At that critical junction, I stopped for about 30 seconds, looked at the options and never saw any flagging with USFS writing on it. One option had some downed logs and looked obscure, so I took the more obvious trail which had tons of pink flagging. I figured they didn’t use the “USFS” markers because there was already a pink ribbon every 50 feet or so on that trail. My guess was that they were improving the trail and since it was already marked, the marking crew just rolled along. In my hazy brain, it seemed like just a few minutes down the way I was seeing USFS markers, so I figured all was cool.”

      “I’m not pointing any fingers or suggesting the getting off course was anything but my fault, just saying how I would have handled the course marking. ”

      You make the best case for no penalty. If you and 17/20 first runners, basically almost everyone that went through there before someone ran down and corrected the markings, then the course WAS inadequately marked. Even with the fine-print kind of warning to look for flagging marked in a certain way, it’s got to be fairly obvious for someone going at speed. If you have to stop and question, and still go the wrong way, there’s no way it’s adequate marking.

      1. Trevor

        i’m being half facetious but runner’s are supposed to know the course right? seems almost cut and dry , things are complicated when you introduce time penalities instead of just DQ’ing. i dnk the answer but im not sympathetic to those who see the flagging as the “race director’s fault’ lmao

  37. Jer

    It was inadequate marking. That is why I suggested using signage and ground flagging and not marking the course in reverse. Still I, as a competitor must run the actual course, whether it is marked or not. I dont care for the post hoc time penalties. I think penalties issued at the time of the foul (at next aid at 21mi), done so everyone knows the competitive landscape going forward, and issued in proportion with the foul (3 to 5 mins), would be fine. This is tricky, as proof can not be instantly had and communicated through the field. It was a tough decision. As RD, I think I would have said no foul and let the race unfold naturally, while explaining the decision and the time vs. distances ran to all the relevant competitors as soon as I possibly could. I think with 6 or 7 hours more running to go to determine the Golden Tickets, the runners wouldn’t have lost it over a few minutes difference in the 2 routes.

  38. Sam P.

    Sean Blanton is totally baked. His brain is fired on marijuana and alcohol. “Dude, bro…I am not an ultrafanboy.”
    Clearly, he is not a RD fanboy either.
    He skewed the race results, so that his friends get placed higher. He doesn’t really care about any else, except the elites.
    Stop kidding yourselves, the only thing that matters now in ultrarunning is the elites, this sport has become their world.
    Eliminate the Golden Ticket races, and go with straight lottery and then (hopefully) this won’t happen again.
    Otherwise, Golden Ticket races will always be rigged for the elites, that is all anyone cares about right?

  39. Blogwithoutajob

    Hey guys, it’s me again, the dummy who slogs through stupid long races so you don’t have to. Join me as I relive the Georgia Death Race, this time with marginally amusing commentary and lots of clumsy analogies. Apologies in advance, as 70+ mile race reports don’t lend themselves to brevity. I’ll try to keep the sidetracking to a minimum. Speaking of sidetracking, you may or may not be aware of the controversy surrounding this year’s edition of the Georgia Death Race, the tl;dr of which is that a lot of people took an incorrect trail that added about .2 miles but cut out anywhere from 200 to 500 feet of climbing. This includes the top two women and the d place man, all of whom now have golden tickets to Western States.

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